Sports Remind Us Of The (Real) Bigger Story

Many us struggle to believe that our lives carry much significance beyond the daily mundane. Most of our lives feel as though they lack the significance of anything larger than paying the bills and getting the kids to school on time. Everything must be on time. It becomes difficult to believe that life is yours and meant to be lived.

I’ve come to believe that part of the reason so many American Suburban Christians struggle to believe in the significance of their own lives is because we’ve sanitized the True Story (as recorded in the Bible) so much that it no longer excites our imaginations. We’ve neutered its heroes into moralistic do-gooders who resemble Dudley Do-Right more than Samson. And Samson’s supposed to be in the story!

However right is heart might be, Dudley just never inspires us to be more. To do more. To live a better story. To make a difference. To take a chance we know can’t be won unless God shows up. And trust that He will. That’s a difficult place to call home. Especially when so many of us live subdued, passive suburban lives that just don’t feel like they mean that much and don’t seem to fit into any bigger story. Much less one about the fate of mankind and a Creator outside of time interested in and even guiding His creation.

We tell the Bible Story as though its simply one story among many, not as if it is the True Story which defines every other story; in which every character finds their role and the meaning of it. We forget that the Bible is not always family friendly. It tells stories of drunken betrayal, incest, rape, genocide, adultery, prostitute, traitors, and so much more. But somewhere along the way, many well-intentioned suburnanized Christians came to believe that everything must be appropriate for their children’s level of moral maturity so “family friendly” seemed to be a prerequisite for “Christian family” pop culture intake. So that the parents themselves would not watch/read/listen to anything that they would find offensive for their children.

Our re-telling of the Bible story sanitizes itself so that no one will be offended by it. And it becomes less and less interesting, less and less inspiring with each retelling. Sure the main point, the climax of the story in Jesus still resonates with us but the rest of the story has become so dull. Or at least it doesn’t seem to shine as brightly as it used to. Not like the stories in books or on cable, or even in sports. We end up looking for meaning in stories other than the Bible Story.

I am not a sports guy. But I have sons who are so I watch sports with them. Not being a sports guy, I’ve thought a lot about the appeal. Because, frankly, I don’t get it. We’re not only watching grown men being paid millions of dollars to play a game and then we somehow pretend like it matters, (when in reality, millions of dollars are actually in play, many of them tax dollars) and “we” come to identify so much with the people on the field so much that we say things like “we really brought it home today” when the most most of “we” did was sit on the couch and drink beer, yelling at the “we” actually doing what we, of course, would have done better. At least that’s how it seemed to be prior to love my sons well enough to actively watch sports with them.

I think that part of the allure of sports is that we know our lives are part of a bigger story, even when we struggle to see how. Like moths to the light, we are drawn to stories that pretend to have mythic proportions. So, not only to we watch sports, we  find ourselves in the inescapable of most narrative: rooting for some; means booing for others. So we build up narratives around each team so that, some are the “good guys”, others the “bad guys” and a mere game has elevated itself into the mythic consciences of millions.

We all want to be part of a bigger story and just like professional wrestling, other professional sports are not just about games, they’re about creating narratives onto which people can hook into and ultimately feel that they’re somehow a part of something bigger than themselves. Every season provides heroes and villains. Underdogs and outliers.

The popularity of professional sports is fine as long we remember that the conflict here is unimportant. “We” will be just fine whether “our team” wins or loses. Because our own lives, as mundane as they might seem, have ultimate value because they are part of the True Story; God’s story of redeeming a people and a world unto Himself; for our good in His glory.

I’m still not a sports guy. But at least now I have a context in which to understand why my sons are. And at least I can sympathize with their sentiments, even if I don’t share their narrative.